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Sadoon Abdal Hassan and his son open for business Wednesday in Arab Jabour.
Sadoon Abdal Hassan and his son open for business Wednesday in Arab Jabour. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Sadoon Abdal Hassan and his son open for business Wednesday in Arab Jabour.
Sadoon Abdal Hassan and his son open for business Wednesday in Arab Jabour. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Abbas Khlaf Alwan, center, talks with Capt. Taras Senenko of Company E, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, about setting up an Internet cafe in the building behind them Wednesday in Arab Jabour.
Abbas Khlaf Alwan, center, talks with Capt. Taras Senenko of Company E, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, about setting up an Internet cafe in the building behind them Wednesday in Arab Jabour. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Sadoon Abdal Hassan, accepts a microgrant for his store from Capt. Ed Cuevas of 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, Wednesday in Arab Jabour.
Sadoon Abdal Hassan, accepts a microgrant for his store from Capt. Ed Cuevas of 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, Wednesday in Arab Jabour. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

ARAB JABOUR, Iraq — Just outside Baghdad’s southern city limits, there are hints of past affluence.

A few large houses dot the palm tree groves that run along the Tigris River. Most of them are pockmarked and slashed by munitions fired in clashes between coalition forces and insurgents in what until recently was an al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold.

The remaining buildings along Arab Jabour’s main drag aren’t pretty, but they are opening for business.

“In the last four years a lot of people left the area,” said Hamid Muhammad Hussain, an auto repair shop owner. “Now a lot of people are coming back.”

Hussain and other locals credit the security push by the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and an embedded State Department reconstruction team in its third week of existence to boost the economy with small-business microgrants.

Hussain received about $2,500 for his shop and 10 other businesses either discussed or received between $1,000 and $3,000 for expanding their businesses and hiring new employees.

“We’re trying to get everybody a job,” said Capt. Bryan Albertson, civil affairs officer with 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.

One of 3rd ID’s top concerns is securing Arab Jabour and other small towns surrounding Baghdad to prevent insurgents and weapons from getting into the capital.

They began by taking over Saddam Hussein’s son Udai’s vacation home and renaming it Patrol Base Murray in June.

At the time, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment soldiers took mortar fire regularly. Roadside bombs blew up two or three times per day, soldiers said.

The soldiers met with local sheiks and began paying them to create “concerned citizens” groups, who patrol Arab Jabour’s main street.

“Now, they pretty much control the whole route,” said Capt. Ed Cuevas, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander. “They’ve freed us up to go north.”

A few miles away, life isn’t as secure, soldiers and residents said. Students leave their village to come to Arab Jabour’s renovated school, which soldiers supplied Wednesday with 2,000 notebooks, 500 pencils an hundreds of backpacks.

The village-to-village rebuilding of Iraq, a country twice the size of Idaho, means that economic aid will need to continue far beyond the days of Iraq’s large coalition military presence, said Bruce Bailey, a contractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A key to that is forging business ties between the villages through business associations loosely resembling local chambers of commerce, reconstruction team members said.

Soldiers said Wednesday that they’ve seen Arab Jabour come a long way.

“We’re hoping those little ripples are going to make a difference,” said Sgt. Mike Kuraina, of psychological operations team 9.

Town residents like Abbas Khlaf Alwan say they trust the concerned citizens to keep the town from tumbling back into chaos. It’s inspired Alwan to take a ramshackle storefront and turn it into a two-computer Internet cafe. Right now, locals must go to Baghdad to go online.

“I wanted to open this store before, but al-Qaida did not accept it,” Abbas said. “Now I feel safe.”

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